APRIL 3, 1995

What you may not know about Buenos Aires

The first major international motor races in Argentina took place after the Second World War, initially on a street circuit laid out in Buenos Aires's Palermo Park in 1947.

Argentina's president at the time was Juan Peron; and, in an effort to boost the international image of Argentina, he ordered the construction of a permanent racing circuit in Buenos Aires. Built on a grand scale on swamp land on the outskirts of city, the Autodromo 17 Octobre was the first truly international standard racing circuit in South America and featured the grandiose Almirante Brown Arch at its entrance.

Opened in March, 1952, the track initially hosted the international races for the Peron Cup, which was replaced in 1953 by the Argentine Grand Prix. That race was won by Alberto Ascari, but the victory was overshadowed by an accident caused because of overcrowding. Nine people were killed. Despite the crash the race returned the following year, and between 1954 and 1957 was won each year by local hero Juan-Manuel Fangio. In 1958 Fangio retired from what would be his last home Grand Prix and Stirling Moss took his Cooper-Climax to a landmark victory - the first win in F1 for a rear-engined car.

The disappearance of Fangio and the other top Argentine racers of the era: Froilan Gonzalez, Onofre Marimon, Carlos Menditeguy and Oscar Galvez and a series of unstable governments and rampant inflation saw the Argentine GP disappear after 1960, and a similar fate befell the Autodromo's sportscar event - the Buenos Aires 1000.

The return of military government in 1966 stabilized the country, and in 1971 - with a new Argentine hero Carlos Reutemann emerging - international racing made a tentative return to Argentina. The Buenos Aires 1000 was, however, an unhappy race which resulted in the death - in a controversial accident - of Italian Ferrari driver Ignazio Giunti, who died when his car ran into the Matra which Jean-Pierre Beltoise was pushing along the track - against the rules. Two weeks later a non-championship Formula 1 race took place which Chris Amon won for Matra, but third place went to Reutemann in a YPF (the state oil company) sponsored McLaren. A year later Reutemann had been signed by Brabham and - in front of his home crowd - took pole in his first World Championship event. Carlos would never win the Argentine GP, but the race produced some memorable moments, including the sensational debut win for the Wolf team in 1977 and the surprising dominance of Ligier in 1979. The last Argentine GP was in 1981 - won by Brazilian Nelson Piquet. The following year saw Reutemann's retirement and Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands.

President Carlos Menem came to power in 1989 and since then has been trying to get racing back to Argentina. His son Carlos Jr. had ambitions of becoming a top racing driver - having competed successfully in international rallying - and Menem Sr. was the motivating force behind the refurbishment of the Autodromo - which is now known as the Autodromo Municipal Oscar Alfredo Galvez. Sadly for Menem, his son was killed last month in a helicopter accident...